Shane Larkin is perhaps the poster child toward revealing the dangers lurking for players who have an affinity for power dunking a basketball.
Last summer, mere hours before Larkin was about to board the Dallas Mavericks’ charter for Las Vegas so he could play in the team’s summer league, the rookie point guard from Miami fractured his right ankle while attempting a fast-break power dunk during a practice session.
Larkin, the 18th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, was trying to show owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle that they had invested wisely in him.
But the injury kept Larkin participation in the Mavericks’ summer league, training camp and the entire preseason, and he also missed the first 10 games of the regular season after undergoing surgery July 16.
“Cuban and Carlisle, that was the first practice they came to, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m about to show them what’s up,’ ” Larkin said. “And I went to plant my foot, my foot went and cracked.
“I took off wrong and I landed wrong. I was laying on the ground, I got up, then I walked up to the training room and I put the ice on it, and then when I took the ice off it was swollen.”
While power dunks have often been used as an intimidating factor that can also be the spark behind a rally, they are not often performed without repercussions.
Players such as Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant have talked about the toll power dunks have taken on their forearm, wrist, hands, fingers, knees and ankles. Sometimes a power dunk can leave fingers a bloody mess.
San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili tweaked his hamstring during a Jan. 28 game against the Houston Rockets while attempting a power dunk.
“I’ve had moments where I’ve dunked the ball harder than normal and caught all the forearm and have a big old lump right there from it,” said Carter, pointing to his right wrist and forearm. “When I dunk the ball, sometimes on the wrist mostly is where you kind of get your lines.
“One of the reasons I started wearing [protective] bands is sometimes it hits there, so it takes some of the pain away. But I always make it a point when I dunk the ball to dunk it with the hands.But sometimes I can still dunk in slow motion, which felt like it was my hand, and I still hit that wrist.”
Carter said one of his most famous dunks — during the 2000 All-Star slam dunk contest in Oakland, when he stuck his entire right forearm in the basket and hung on the rim — was exceptionally painful.
During games, Carter knows power dunks are in vogue because they send a message to the opposing team, regardless of the danger behind that dunk.
“I made my mark on trying to dunk on big guys,” Carter said. “But when they see that the little guy is coming up there dunking with power, they’re like, ‘All right, if I try to block it this little man might break my hand.’
“So every time I was by myself I tried to dunk it with power to make a statement. It was like, ‘All right, this will be your fingers if you put your hand up there,’ so I think after a while when they see you come in there and they know I wasn’t afraid to try and jump over people with the power, they’d think twice.”
It’s not just the players doing the dunking — or the ones trying to block a dunk attempt — who are in the line of fire when power dunks are being executed. The basket is not immune to such power.
In 1979, Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers held up two games within a span of three weeks when he broke two rims and shattered the backboard glasswith powerful dunks. The glass pieces covered the floor but fortunately didn’t land in players’ eyes.
That led to the NBA using breakaway rims, which were made to release some pressure when they’re pulled down.
In addition, during his years with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, Shaquille O’Neal used his massive power to bring two baskets nearly off their strapping support systems. As was the case when Dawkins shattered the backboard, players were scurrying to get out of the way so the backboard wouldn’t fall on their head.
Shorter players, such as the 5-foot-11 Larkin attested to, also are in a far greater danger when they’re flying in for dunks.
When Spud Webb reached international fame after winning the NBA slam dunk contest at Reunion Arena in Dallas in 1986, he admits that some of those dunks came with a hefty price.
“Yeah, your wrist and forearm would be hurting sometimes if you’re doing a lot of dunk-contest stuff,” Webb said. “You definitely can feel it if you’re dunking all the time.”
At 5-foot-7 and one of the shortest players in NBA history, Webb also had to jump higher than the average player and had a far greater distance before he landed on the court, thus increasing his probability of injuring his knees and ankles upon impact.
Webb, however, said: “A lot of people ask me with the longer leap that I take, did my knees usually bother me, or my ankles? But it actually didn’t, and I don’t know why.
“It’s a long ways down, so I guess I’m a lot more careful coming down.”
It’s also a long ways down for Mavericks center Brandan Wright, one of the NBA’s resident sky walkers, who gets dangerously high in the air on his patented lob power dunks.
“Sometimes the best way to score is to dunk it,” Wright said. “We don’t think about getting hurt. If it happens, it’s unfortunate.”
During his time playing for the Sixers, center Samuel Dalembert, now with the Mavericks, had some injuries related to power dunks.
“You try to slam the ball in and you still have this part right here that starts swelling up,” said Dalembert, pointing to his forearm. “It happened to me when I used to dunk a lot when I was in Philly on alley-oops.
“As a big [player], they don’t call fouls as often when you go down low and the little men smack you. So you try to go hard and slam it in hard, and a lot of times you get those little swellings and bruises on your arm.”
NBA veteran Corey Brewer wasn’t worried about any swellings or bruises when he stormed down the floor in 2009 on a fast break and promptly dunked with some authority over Derek Fisher, who was trying to take a charge on the play.
“He’s always known for taking a charge, but I felt like I could go over the top of him and I was able to dunk over him,” said Brewer, a former Maverick who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “But I wouldn’t say the dunk is dangerous except when you’re running full speed and you have to hang on the rim.
“That’s the only time it can really be dangerous — if a guy undercuts you.”
Larkin certainly understands the danger.
He never made it to Las Vegas, winding up instead on an operating table at the Texas Sports Medicine facility in Dallas.
“For a guy like me, I’ve got to jump 30-something inches off the ground to dunk it. I’m up there with a lot of time to fall the wrong way, land the wrong way. I’ve got to exert more energy when I jump, so there’s a lot more pressure on my legs,” Larkin said.
When it comes to power dunks, let the dunker beware.